Saturday, July 17, 2010

Os Guinness (July/August 2000)

The last time the Door interviewed Os Guinness, we were still Wittenburg and he was still dark haired. The year was 1985, and, with the Moral Majority in its ascendancy, the time seemed right to play up any connections between England’s most famous and prolific Francis Schaeffer disciple and his stout-brewing relatives. Hence the now legendary Guinness-stout-bottle image on the front, perhaps the only Christian-magazine cover ever blamed by its readers for driving them to drink. Well, times have changed. The Door now appears in color, Os Guinness has gray hair, and Guinness stout has its own web page-- Or something like that--we were a little soused when we logged on.

Some things, on the other hand, remain the same. Os Guinness, for instance, still writes more books in a year than the
Door has subscribers, books with titles such as Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It (Baker), Dining with the Devil: The Megachurch Movement Flirts with Modernity (Baker), and Good Morning, Hangover: Drinking the Devil Under the Table (Thomas Nelson) (actually we’re not sure about that last one, Os Guinness would never publish with Thomas Nelson)--titles that on their own say more than the contents of Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s collected gift boxes put together.

His latest book--Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Spin (Baker)--has just come out, and in it, as in his other books, Guinness speaks with prophetic clarity and concision on a topic of crucial importance, its 125 pages serving to expose the hidden links uniting such disparate postmodern phenomena as the presidency of Bill Clinton, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and the autobiography of Jay Leno. He also continues his practice of examining two unsatisfactory approaches to a problem (this time modernism and postmodernism) then proposing a satisfactory Third Way (i.e., the Christian faith).

Only this time the Third Way is not just the Christian faith but (from page fifteen) the “‘faith community/tradition view of truth’--which the Jewish and Christian faiths represent” (emphasis added). Toto, we have a feeling that we’re not just in Evangelicaldom anymore (Wizard of Os reference added). We also have a feeling that you’ll find what Guinness had to say to the Door’s Arsenio Orteza goes way beyond the clicking of one’s heels. And that’s the truth.

THE DOOR MAGAZINE: In the spirit of the title of your latest book, Time for Truth, let’s clear the air right off and establish what your current relationship with the Guinness brewing company is.
GUINNESS: I’m descended from the youngest son of Arthur Guinness, the original brewer, my great-great grandfather.

DOOR: Do you still--how shall we put it--benefit from the relationship?
GUINNESS: No, I don’t benefit. I partake (laughs). People often say that there are three branches of the Guinness family: the Brewing Guinnesses, the Banking Guinnesses, and the Poor Guinnesses--or the Guinnesses for God.

DOOR: People often refer to us as “the Poor Door.” Are the Poor Guinnesses and the Guinnesses for God the same branch?

DOOR: So your branch is itself a “Third Way.”
GUINNESS: Except in this case we’re not the middle line between the brewers and the bankers, who are both exceedingly wealthy. Our part is distinguished for other things.

DOOR: Time for Truth is distinguished in part by its many references to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Was it the impetus for the book?
GUINNESS: No. In fact, I didn’t put Clinton in the first draft.

DOOR: Why did you add the Clinton chapter?
GUINNESS: Partly because the manuscript was too short, and partly because people wanted to see the relevance of the scandal.

DOOR: What is the relevance of the scandal?
GUINNESS: I think that the significance of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was that you had the president--the gatekeeper--showing the influence of postmodernism breaking out at the very highest levels, in the Oval Office.

DOOR: Some have said, in Clinton’s defense, that his is hardly the first administration within which postmodernist thinking has broken out.
GUINNESS: Well, you’ve had many examples of presidential lying, including Richard Nixon.

DOOR: We’ve heard of him.
GUINNESS: But you’ve never had such systematic lying rooted in such explicitly postmodern conditions.

DOOR: What conditions, exactly?
GUINNESS: The psychology of his background as an adult child of an alcoholic, the philosophy of the way he conducted his defense in the impeachment, his saying to Dick Morris, “We shall just have to win then.” It was a very clear example of the will to power.

DOOR: The “will to power”?
GUINNESS: He who has the most dream-team lawyers, the best attack dogs, the most ingenious spin-meisters wins the day. In other words, both his psychology and his tactics were more explicitly postmodern and of a very different order of seriousness from, say, previous presidential lies.

DOOR: Do you think that his scandal has stigmatized explicit postmodernism or legitimized it?
GUINNESS: I think that the future will lie somewhere between those two.

DOOR: Another Third Way?
GUINNESS: There was no clear moral response during the impeachment, and what you see in the polls now is a kind of uneasiness over what happened but far from a clear conviction. I’m no more persuaded by the uneasiness of the public now than I was with the uneasiness of its acceptance of what he was doing a year ago.

DOOR: Speaking of critical-legal studies and dream-team lawyers, where does the O.J. Simpson trial fit into this discussion?
GUINNESS: Johnny Cochran’s brilliance was that he turned the O.J. trial into a national referendum on racism and clearly won the power battle over Marcia Clark and the others in the process. In the same way, David Kendall and the president’s lawyers turned the impeachment into a national referendum on America’s broadmindedness about sex and got it off the substantive points and left the House managers flailing around about details.

DOOR: Speaking of sex, have you noticed Joe Bob Briggs on our masthead?

DOOR: Never mind. You were talking about Johnny Cochran and David Kendall.
GUINNESS: They were both brilliant tactically but incredibly dangerous substantively in terms of the outcome.

DOOR: What’s to be done?
GUINNESS: I think that there are two grounds of hope. One is that when you get that pragmatic and that super-realistic, you become counter productive.

DOOR: -----
GUINNESS: In other words, when everything is manipulation and image and deception, what happens is, no one trusts anything, and, far from being realistic, it becomes self-defeating. These people defeat themselves. They get tripped up in their own machinations.

DOOR: What if they don’t?
GUINNESS: Well, you can see in history that you don’t counter postmodern bits of power with counter bits of power. You counter it with character and integrity and moral conscience.

DOOR: Um, we’ve heard of those too.
GUINNESS: You can see this, say, the story of William Wilberforce.

DOOR: The eighteenth-century British Evangelical Christian statesman and reformer best known for fighting to abolish slavery?
GUINNESS: Yes. He and his fellow members of Parliament never numbered more than thirty at the outside. But slowly, because they broke ranks with partisanship, voted against their party when the party was wrong, and refused to be corrupted, their characters were seen to be what they were. And over thirty, forty, fifty years, they became the moral conscience of Britain and then of Europe.

DOOR: Is there now, or has there ever been, an American Wilberforce?
GUINNESS: Not exactly. In fact, you need one today.

DOOR: Is there no one, say, in the Christian Right who could fill his shoes?
GUINNESS: I would argue that the Christian Right has served us badly for twenty-five years.

DOOR: In what ways?
GUINNESS: Well, you could itemize about ten fundamental flaws, but for me one of the earliest and deepest is their lack of a public philosophy--of a common vision for the common good--without which their every thrust into the public square is perceived as threatening and subversive. For instance, one journalist said to me in the ’80s, “Evangelicals talk of ‘justice,’ but they sound like ‘just us.’” That’s the problem with much of the Christian Right.

DOOR: Is that why in Time for Truth you identify the Third Way as “that which the Jewish and Christian faiths represent,” instead of merely that which the Christian faith represents?
GUINNESS: Yes. I was very aware when I wrote Time for Truth that when you come to truth, Jews and Christians are absolutely one. We as Christians often say--from the New Testament--that “God is love”; the Jews, from the Old Testament--the Hebrew scriptures--would say “God is truth.” And, of course, Christians would include the Old Testament as well as the New and likewise have this high stress on truth. Because Jews and Christians have an incredible stake in truth and truthfulness and the trustworthiness of God, truth’s an issue where, beyond any question, Jews and Christians stand against modernists on the one hand and postmodernists on the other.

DOOR: On what other issues could Christians and Jews stand shoulder-to-shoulder?
GUINNESS: One of the current ones is forgiveness and the current discussion of it surrounding the Pope’s efforts in Jerusalem. Many Jews call Christians “forgivers,” as if forgiveness is a matter of cheap grace, and some Christians have turned it into that. But forgiveness is actually a very precious and deeply important thing.

DOOR: So you’re not overlooking the crucial issues over which Christians and Jews disagree.
GUINNESS: No, but I think on many fronts our co-belligerence is incredibly important and that we need to stress the unity where we can.

DOOR: Are Christians and Jews the only two faith groups who can stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the issue of truth?
GUINNESS: Well, certainly the Muslims can too. The three great monotheistic religions--Judaism, the Christian faith, and Islam--all have a high view of truth.

DOOR: The Eastern religions don’t?
GUINNESS: No, because to them the world in which we’re living is the world of illusion. Oddly enough, truth doesn’t have a high place among the Western secularists either.

DOOR: What makes you say that?
GUINNESS: Simply look at, say, the humanist and naturalist understanding of truth in evolution. As they see it, we’re products of time plus matter plus chance. Truth is a handicap because many of the species that have flourished have actually flourished by being deceptive. Evolutionary theory puts a great stress on deceptiveness. And if you look at the philosophical implications of that, it means that evolutionists don’t have a framework for saying why human beings are truth-seekers and why the universe as it is reinforces truth-seeking. That’s an incredibly important philosophical and apologetic point.

DOOR: The focus of the coverage of the Pope’s visit to Israel has been on whether he’ll ask forgiveness for the Church’s posture during World War II and whether or not the Jews will grant it. Isn’t his visit simply the sort of empty gesture that world leaders feel obligated to indulge in from time to time as a matter of international good manners?
GUINNESS: No, no. I think his visit is of world-historic significance. And I’m not Catholic, I’m Anglican. John Paul II has been praised for his extraordinary stand, over many decades, that helped bring down the Soviet Union. But I think his contribution there will pale by comparison with what he’s doing now. In other words, whether it’s our treatment of the Muslims during the Crusades or the Jews during the horror of the Holocaust or whatever, his saying, “Forgive us and we pass on the forgiveness” opens up the possibility of a springtime of evangelism.

DOOR: Are you sure you’re not Catholic?
GUINNESS: In my church--the Episcopal church--we have leadership that is heretical and that couldn’t with any integrity step up to the plate. If they were to, it would be a very hollow exercise in political correctness. But the pope is doing it with extraordinary integrity.

DOOR: There was when Evangelicals would have felt threatened by the notion of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Jews and Muslims and of giving the Pope credit for a springtime of evangelism.
GUINNESS: Some Evangelicals. And it still sounds threatening to some.

DOOR: What could you say to convince them that this co-belligerence to which you refer is not a recipe for compromise?
GUINNESS: There are two biblical principles that the Church has been clear on from time to time. One is, all truth is God’s truth. That means we affirm truth wherever it is although we argue that it’s only finally fulfilled and properly grounded in God, who is the Father of Jesus Christ.

DOOR: What’s the other?
GUINNESS: The other is the principle of co-belligerence. Wilberforce--or, more recently, Francis Schaeffer--used to stress that we are always willing to work with anyone who is strongly opposed to what we’re strongly opposed to. So, if you have feminists who truly oppose pornography, we work with them--as co-belligerents, not as allies. If there’s a group of atheists who are against abortion, we work with them. Wilberforce did that stunningly. He worked with real rogues and rascals to help his reformation of manners, and he succeeded. Now, back to the book--

DOOR: The book?
GUINNESS: Time for Truth. The book’s more than Clinton.

DOOR: Of course. It’s also, um, let’s see--oh, yes, on page nineteen you refer to “the lies of Western society--particularly as they are compounded by the ‘culture cartel’ of postmodern academia, advertising, entertainment, and youth culture.” Do you think that academia has become so postmodern that concerned parents should consider not sending their children to college at all?
GUINNESS: No. I’ve always thought that when you look at Christian colleges and the secular universities, the answer is “both and,” not one or the other. I love Christian colleges like, say, Gordon College in Massachusetts, which is totally faithful yet totally engaged and which has a very stimulating yet Christian climate. On the other hand, it’s when we take on the toughest discussions and the strongest objections from the wildest theorists that we brace up and see freshly the new wonders of the Gospel because, you know, we’d been in a rut. I love the statement of old George Whitfield, the evangelist: “I’m never better than when I’m on the full stretch for God.”

DOOR: Have you ever felt as if you were “on the full stretch for God”?
GUINNESS: Twice. Once was when I went out to India and studied under a guru.

DOOR: That must’ve hurt.

DOOR: Um, you studied under a guru--
GUINNESS: I was really challenged right to the core. My faith grew immeasurably in answering the challenge of Hinduism.

DOOR: What was the other time?
GUINNESS: The other time was when I did my doctorate in the social sciences. I was in the sociology of knowledge, which is one of the most mind-spinning areas of relativism there is. But it was in plunging into it, exploring it, answering it, and countering it, that my faith grew. I’m grateful to the Lord, and will be forever, that I had the privilege of going to Oxford, the very best in Europe. When you survive and prevail in that, well, you know--

DOOR: Actually, we don’t.
GUINNESS: I’m also glad I came to Christ in the sixties.

DOOR: What was so special about the ’60s?
GUINNESS: Because it was a decade in which everything went back to square one, tore up the roots, and challenged the fundamental presuppositions. If you could know what you believed and why you believed and how to answer others in that decade, you could take on anything.

DOOR: Another component of your “culture cartel” is advertising. Isn’t the inherent distortion of truth involved in advertising so obvious that its destructive effects are practically nil?
GUINNESS: Advertising is dangerous for all sorts of reasons. For instance, in America, you have such an omnipresent sell, sell, sell, sell that you’ve erased the line between “for sale” and “not for sale.” Remember the horror of the fact that the Prince of Peace was sold for pieces of silver or Martin Luther’s outrage that grace was being sold for money in the form of indulgences. In America, everything is up for sale, including God.

DOOR: Some people are offended that we charge money for our magazine.
GUINNESS: I’m personally disturbed by how many Christian ministries today have turned things that in other centuries, in other parts of the world, would’ve been seen as pure ministry into money-making operations. I think that’s incredibly dangerous. And I wish someone had done an analysis exposing our false prophets of the Y2K conspiracy.

DOOR: The Christian-speaking circuit seems to have become rather lucrative.
GUINNESS: Absolutely. The money being earned by Christian speakers on these circuits is absolutely phenomenal, in the hundreds of thousands.

DOOR: What do you charge to speak?
GUINNESS: I don’t charge anything.

DOOR: -----
GUINNESS: I just take whatever is appropriate to the group that I’m with.

DOOR: -----
GUINNESS: Sometimes I get three hundred dollars. Sometimes I get one thousand. I just say to them, “My speaking is my ministry. It’s not a money-making thing.”

DOOR: Um, would you mind our sending you the bill for this call?
GUINNESS: I couldn’t make $300,000 a year by speaking to fellow Christians. That, I think, is close to fraud. When people are taking the message from scriptures, the Word of God, and start making fortunes out of it, that, I think, stinks.

DOOR: Has Christian book-selling similarly over-inflated the worth of some authors?
GUINNESS: Absolutely. One publishing house--which I will not name--

DOOR: May we guess?
GUINNESS: --sold what I believe is still the best-selling book in Christian publishing in the last fifteen years even though they knew that the book had heresy in it.

DOOR: May we ask which book?
GUINNESS: Benny Hinn’s Good Morning, Holy Spirit. Yet they published it.

DOOR: That would be Thomas Nelson Publishers.
GUINNESS: And sure enough the book made enormous profits. I thought that was utterly scandalous.

DOOR: Our favorite Benny Hinn book is The Anointing.

DOOR: Um, but you think the Hinn-Nelson entanglement is an exception within Christian publishing?
GUINNESS: Well, the problem with Christian publishing is much wider and deeper than that. One of the simplest problems is the massive dumbing down. Here we are living in a country which has a biblical view of sin that’s very radical--enshrined in its constitution, the separation of powers--yet, if you look at the Christian bookstores, what has happened to the biblical view of sin?

DOOR: What has happened to the biblical view of sin?
GUINNESS: In many cases we’re down to the “hole in the soul” and “low self-esteem.” Christian bookselling often has appalling theology. It’s not just at the level of pablum; it’s heretical pablum and a disgrace before God.

DOOR: Please don’t mince words.
GUINNESS: And most of it must’ve passed through because it’s market driven, not message driven.

DOOR: Some people might say that your criticism is grounded in a particular theological tradition and not in a sensitivity to the fact that other Christians--Charismatics in Benny Hinn’s case--have a different perspective.
GUINNESS: When it comes to truth, I don’t know any tradition in the church of Christ--Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical--which historically doesn’t take truth as fundamentally serious. Not a single one.

DOOR: But a great deal of what you’re referring to as heretical in contemporary-Christian publishing might be perfectly normal theology in one church or another somewhere today.
GUINNESS: I think you’d say that the opening editions of Benny Hinn’s were heretical by any church of Christ. If they’ve gotten to the place where they can’t see that sort of thing as heretical, we’re deeply in trouble. To put it another way, Winston Churchill used to quote Alexander the Great, who said, “The reason the Persians would never be free was they didn’t know how to say the word no.” The church’s strength is not just in its capacity to say “yes” to Jesus but to say to “no” to the world, the flesh, the devil, heresy, and worldliness. And the American church today has virtually lost the capacity to say “no.” So America is awash with “possibility thinking” and “affirmation” and “positive thinking.” If ever the evangelical church cannot say, “This is false, this is heretical, this is worldly”--if we just say, “Well, that’s your tradition”--we’re very deeply in trouble.”

DOOR: You cite in Time for Truth Karl Menninger’s work in tracing the decline of the American view of evil. What was once “sin” eventually became “crime,” what was “crime” eventually became “sickness.”
GUINNESS: Mmm-hmm.

DOOR: Some would say that we, both secular society and the church, have slipped even further, that we’ve redefined “sickness” as “mistakes.”
GUINNESS: Yes. One of the bad moral responses to the Clinton impeachment was this notion, “Mistakes were made.” Another one I notice very commonly now is “Time to move on.”

DOOR: What’s wrong with that one?
GUINNESS: It’s a pseudo-moral answer, an example of just one of the many ways in which Americans have lost the capacity to confront and genuinely resolve moral problems.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Frederica Mathewes-Green (March/April 1995)

From 1991 to 2005, I had the pleasure of interviewing a fascinating array of writers, theologians, politicians, artists, and musicians for the Wittenburg Door, the original--only?--magazine of religious satire. From the preparation required to conduct them to the editing required to make them both clear and funny (the Door's two requirements, although not necessarily in that order), these interviews changed my life (mostly for the better). Although I conducted most of the interviews by phone, I was on several occasions able to hop a plane and question my subjects in person thanks to the generosity of Bob Darden and the late Mike Yaconelli, the editors who underwrote my adventures. It was a generosity made all the more special by the fact that the Door was usually deep in the red. For such acts of genuinely Christian charity (or fiscal insanity, I'm not sure which), I remain intensely grateful. Several of my interviews--R.C. Sproul, Chris Yambar--are still online in their entirety. What's posted below is one of the ones that's been MIA for awhile.

Pro-choicers who enjoy stereotyping pro-life activists as Bible-thumping extremists with Southern accents and itchy trigger fingers will have a hard time with Frederica Mathewes-Green. A contemporary of President Clinton, she spent the late '60s and early '70s blossoming as a flower child, rejecting the Catholicism of her upbringing in favor of syncretic, Eastern mysticism.

It was a mystical experience of another kind, however, that ended up having the greatest impact on her life. While hitchhiking across Europe with her husband, she experienced a Damascus Road-style conversion, eventually going on to study for the Episcopal priesthood, join the Orthodox Church (where her husband serves as a priest), and become one of the pro-life movement's most compassionate, articulate, and original voices.

The mother of three, Ms. Mathewes-Green traces her decision to change her position on abortion not to some hoary document authored by a patriarchal church council, but to a 1976 issue of Esquire that ran an eye-opening piece called "What I Saw at the Abortion Clinic." From then on, the idea that the fetus wasn't human no longer washed with her. Neither did the idea that abortion represented a safe, dignified exercise of female free will.

In late 1994, Multnomah published her first book, Real Choices, a collection of interviews with women who've had abortions, interspersed with studies, statistics, and observations like "As sexuality is snipped from the fabric of personhood and isolated as sheer mechanical act, severed from context and emotional ties, women are lonelier than ever."

If there's such a thing as a bleeding-heart conservative, Frederica Mathewes-Green is it. Heck, she even goes by a hyphenated last name. She hosted the Door 's Arsenio Orteza in her Baltimore home and turned on the pro-life charm as only an ex-flower-child-turned-wife-of-an-Orthodox-priest can.

DOOR: There are Christian Republicans and Christian Democrats, Christian vegetarians and Christian carnivores, Christians who oppose the death penalty and Christians who support it. Can there be Christians who are pro-life and Christians who are pro-choice?

DOOR: Don't answer right away. Think it over. We have lots --
M-G: No.

DOOR: -- of time.
M-G: No.

DOOR: Something tells us you've already given this question a lot of thought.
M-G: The heart of Christianity is all about taking care of the last and the least and the lost. There is no compassionate or logical argument for taking the life of any human, but in particular the smallest members of our human family. To me there's something suspect about even wanting to.

DOOR: But many people--including some Christians--argue quite persuasively in favor of abortion.

M-G: The arguments in favor of abortion are so desperate and contrived. They overreach to such an extent that you have to wonder why it's so necessary to kill these children. Why is it so urgent that we have to so desperately try to find excuses to kill our youngest sisters and brothers? The whole thing has an unsavory quality to it, entirely distinct from what Christianity is all about.

DOOR: Some people--including some Christians--would say pro-lifers are more unsavory than aborted babies.
M-G: I guess the argument most used by Christians in favor of abortion is that it's a matter of conscience, and that even if it's a terrible thing to do, that has to be between the woman and God.

DOOR: What's wrong with that argument?
M-G: We're never commanded to follow our instincts against the better advice of the community of faith. In Romans Paul says that pagans know God's will, do it or fail to do it, and that their consciences either encourage them or condemn them. But he's presuming there's such a thing as a formed conscience.

DOOR: That sounds coercive.
M-G: But when you're under authority and accepting the apostles' teaching and fellowship, you're being taught by the church, and your conscience gets formed around moral laws that are promulgated by the community and the gathered wisdom of the church through the ages.

DOOR: That might be well and good for you liturgical types, but what about the average "just-me-and- Jesus" Christian in the pew?
M-G: There still isn't any mandate that I can see for people to go off on their own and say, "My conscience told me to do this."

DOOR: What about all those Christians--from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr.--who've changed history in the name of conscience?
M-G: But your conscience can tell you to do all kinds of convenient things. I believe this is the difference between liberal and conservative Christianity: liberals believe that man is basically good, and conservatives believe that man is basically fallen. If we are basically good, then the longings we find in our hearts will be good ones. If we are basically fallen, then we have to look at the longings we find in our hearts very closely because they may be leading us in a bad direction.

DOOR: Can you give us an example, besides abortion?
M-G: Look at all the people who fall into adultery because their hearts tell them to. The longing is overwhelming: "It can't be wrong if it feels so right." Sorry. It's still wrong.

DOOR: We're sure Pat Boone will be thrilled that you're quoting the lyrics of his daughter’s greatest hit as an example of adultery advocacy.
M-G: By the way, I once filled two cassettes with nothing but pro-life songs. One of the best known is Pat Boone's. … [Singing] "Let them walk into the sunshine ...."

DOOR: We have to say, you sing better than most people we interview. How many songs did you find?
M-G: Like forty-eight. It was a huge list. They were all Christian, and they were almost all baby songs. A lot of them had baby talk in them, with women singing in tiny baby voices, pretending to be babies.

DOOR: Sounds ... interesting.
M-G: A lot of it was pretty revolting.

DOOR: That's what we meant to say. Sounds revolting.
M-G: They're intensely sentimental, not really good music--

DOOR: Um, we'd love to trash the Christian music industry all day, but you were talking about liberal-vs.-conservative Christianity.
M-G: It's a funny thing. Liberals keep accusing conservatives of being unrealistic: we don't understand how hard it is for women, that teenagers are going to "do it" anyway--

DOOR: That's not true?
M-G: I think the reverse is true. It's liberals who are unrealistic. They're starry-eyed about the sweet goodness of human nature. I would think the history of this century alone would be enough to show the appalling depths to which humans, believing they're doing the right thing, can fall. That's why we need external controls, why our conscience is not enough, and why Christianity has always condemned abortion.

DOOR: Always?
M-G: One of the earliest documents from the church fathers, the Didache, says, "You shall not kill a child by abortion." That's from the year 110.

DOOR: Did they mean by "abortion" what we mean by abortion?
M-G: Abortion probably wasn't practiced as much as infanticide, although both were very accepted by the pagans, Greeks, and Romans. The way the Romans handled abortion was just chilling. It was routine, for example, for middle class families to save their first two children and then expose all the other children to the elements to improve the chances of the first children's getting a better education, having more expensive clothes, and so forth.

DOOR: What happened to the so-called maternal instincts of these pro-exposure moms?
M-G: I don't know how that attachment gets eradicated. But from the inscriptions that have been found, it seems as if even mothers didn't care much, that the prestige and advancement of the family--especially of the father--was more important than anything else.

DOOR: If pro-lifers have pro-choicers over a barrel when it comes to prenatal life, isn't it the other way around when it comes to postnatal life? Robin Williams once joked, "I wonder how pro-life all these pro-lifers would be if someone were to say to them, 'O.K., here's your very own ... crack baby! M-G: That's an astoundingly vicious joke! What he's saying is, "You see these disabled babies? If you don't take them, I'm going to kill them. I wish I had killed them! If I had caught that baby in the womb before it came out and drew its first breath, I would've slashed it to pieces and pushed it down a garbage disposal. Since I wasn't able to do that, now it's your responsibility. You have to raise it."

DOOR: But somebody does have to raise it.
M-G: And fortunately pro-lifers are doing that. Pro-lifers are adopting these babies in huge numbers.

DOOR: How huge?
M-G: There's a waiting list of between 100 and 150 couples waiting to adopt a Down-Syndrome baby. There are waiting lists for terminally ill babies, AIDS babies, for every kind of child in trouble. There's tremendous demand. I had a friend who wanted to adopt. She got in line for a little boy who was blind and black. But she lost out. She didn't win the prize of being able to adopt this little blind, black boy. So she got in line again.

DOOR: What for this time?
M-G: A dwarf from Greece.

DOOR: It's probably too late for a Michael Dukakis joke at this point.
M-G: It was a girl.

M-G: My friend came in third that time. Two others were ahead of her in competition for this baby.

DOOR: How does one compete for these babies?
M-G: This sweet girl--she lives in Kansas City and had to go to an interview in New York. She took a Greyhound bus because she doesn't drive or have any money. She went for the interview and presented herself. It was like interviewing for a job. She tried desperately to show what a good mother she would be. She lost, but she's still hoping to adopt. This kind of Robin Williams message says, "These babies are so repellent, who could love them? Gosh, I wish they were dead. Maybe we should just round them up and gas them." It makes me think he's not adopting. But I know that pro-lifers are adopting these babies. I don't know if pro-choicers are.
Another argument, the illogic of which drives me nuts, is "Look at these abused children. Why weren't they dismembered earlier?" The argument that child abuse justifies abortion--"Look, this kid got burned with a cigarette! I wish they'd ripped his arms and legs off two years ago when he was still unborn."

DOOR: You alluded to the Holocaust. Is that kosher, so to speak?
M-G: I think there are fair and unfair aspects to it. Somebody once said that the Holocaust is essentially a copyrighted experience to Jews. So if you use it as an analogy to anything else, Jews will find it instantly offensive. That's why I don't usually use the Holocaust as a direct analogy. Where I would refer to it is as an example of how depraved the human heart can be in thinking it's doing good.

DOOR: Pro-lifers also compare themselves to the Civil Rights protesters of the '60s.
M-G: That's more legitimate, though there's a backfire in that, too.

DOOR: What's that?
M-G: Any "rights" argument argues from autonomy and individuality, and ultimately that leads to arguing rights against rights. When I argue the baby's rights, someone else argues the woman's rights, and we end up with a deadlock.

DOOR: Isn't deadlock better than defeat, from a pro-life point of view?
M-G: Well, when you have a deadlock between a little, tiny person and a great big person, the big person always wins.

DOOR: Still, haven't rights-based arguments help broaden pro-life sympathies beyond religious boundaries, to include libertarians, for instance?
M-G: Rights-based arguments do work to derail the question, to confuse people, to keep them uncomfortable. But rights-based arguments don't provide solutions or a vision for resolution. That's why in Real Choices I criticize the pro-life movement's unrelenting emphasis on the baby, the baby, the baby.

DOOR: First Debby Boone, now Amy Grant.
M-G: -----

DOOR: Uh, you were saying --
M-G: Statistics show that over seventy percent of Americans now say, "It's a baby. Abortion kills. Killing is wrong." We have convinced them it's a baby. But they also say abortion should be legal. So this unrelenting emphasis on the baby is not getting us where we need to be.

DOOR: What will get pro-lifers where they need to be?
M-G: We need to forsake this autonomous "rights" language in favor of a more holistic vision of the mother and child put together as one: anything that hurts one hurts the other; anything that helps one helps the other. If we fall into the trap of seeing mother and child as enemies, we are buying into visions of a society that is insane. It's insane to think that mothers and their children need to compete and that only one can survive. Insofar as pro-lifers have fed into that Punch-and-Judy show, we've made a mistake. It's time to back out.

DOOR: And do what instead?
M-G: I have a bumper sticker on my car that says, "Love them both." That's the message of the future, to try to find a way to keep them both together.

DOOR: Is it realistic to expect that pro-lifers will find a way to do this?
M-G: There are several reasons for why the battle is overwhelmingly against us at this point. First, when you have 4,400 women having abortions every day--

DOOR: Excuse us, but that sounds like an inflated figure.
M-G: You'll find it backed up by Planned Parenthood and the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

DOOR: On some days there probably aren't even 4,400 couples having sex!
M-G: Speak for yourself.

DOOR: -----
M-G: Anyway, when you have 4,400 women having abortions every day, there's a demand that isn't going to be resolved by simply making abortion illegal. Second, it's not only women who "want" abortions--of course, I say they don't really want them--but it's the boyfriends, the bosses, and the woman's parents, too. It's not just that one woman. It's a whole constellation of other people who believe that this is the right thing to do. So you're not going to be able to remove abortion from society without radically restructuring society.

DOOR: In today's climate, people hear words like "radical" and "restructuring" as paving the way for the shooting of abortion-clinic employees.
M-G: Well, Jesus didn't shoot His enemies. He didn't come as a general. He didn't seize political power whether it was offered to Him by Satan or His followers. He didn't run for Congress or try to pass laws. What He did was take a towel and wash the feet of His followers.

DOOR: "Foot Washers for Life"? It's not much of a rallying cry.
M-G: It's a mystery, but it looks to me as if that's the way God changes His world, through servanthood, meekness, and humility.

DOOR: Where do protests outside abortion clinics fit into this?
M-G: It could be argued--and I find it persuasive--that there's nothing you can do outside a clinic now that looks good.

DOOR: Nothing?
M-G: The one exception I would make is my friend Mariam Bell. She works for Child Health U.S.A., the child-abuse agency. She's been married for twenty years, has never had kids, and has desperately wanted to adopt. For the last five Saturdays at a clinic in Alexandria, VA, she's set up a folding table with a lot of helium balloons, coffee, donuts, and a big banner that says, "CHOOSE ADOPTION." When women drive into the parking lot, they pass by her table, pause, and a lot of times they chat.

DOOR: Then what?
M-G: In five weeks she's had eleven women turn away from the clinic. Not all of them decided on adoption, but they all decided they didn't want an abortion.

DOOR: That day.
M-G: That day. They all decided they need to think about it some more and maybe not have an abortion at all. She gives out a folder that has a lot of information in it, plus profiles of herself and other couples that want to adopt. So the woman who drives away from there can read about them and look at their pictures and, perhaps, decide for a private adoption.

DOOR: Are balloons, coffee, and donuts the future of pro-life activism?
M-G: It's a very positive approach, and popular.

DOOR: It's been a long time since pro-lifers--especially Christian ones--were perceived as popularizing positive alternatives to abortion.
M-G: PR is always a problem. In the early days of Christianity, the church condemned abortion, infanticide, and the abandonment of any sick or ill people. But the church also built orphanages and hospitals and established and upheld marriage and fidelity, to better cherish the least, the last, and the helpless.

As we see Christendom finally break down here at the end of the twentieth century, one of the things we have to expect is a return to cruelty and pragmatism in the discarding of human life. It is because the wave of Christianity is receding that it now becomes possible to kill our children again.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Alan Keyes (July/August 1995)

From 1991 to 2005, I had the pleasure of interviewing a fascinating array of writers, theologians, politicians, artists, and musicians for the Wittenburg Door, the original--only?--magazine of religious satire. From the preparation required to conduct them to the editing required to make them both clear and funny (the Door's two requirements, although not necessarily in that order), these interviews changed my life (mostly for the better). Although I conducted most of the interviews by phone, I was on several occasions able to hop a plane and question my subjects in person thanks to the generosity of Bob Darden and the late Mike Yaconelli, the editors who underwrote my adventures. It was a generosity made all the more special by the fact that the Door was usually deep in the red. For such acts of genuinely Christian charity (or fiscal insanity, I'm not sure which), I remain intensely grateful. Several of my interviews--R.C. Sproul, Chris Yambar--are still online in their entirety. What's posted below is one of the ones that's been MIA for awhile.

Ten years ago, most people would've considered the phrase "black conservative" an oxymoron if they considered it at all. Today, four years after the successful but controversial appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, articulate black conservatives are emerging almost exponentially. Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Ken Hamblin, Roy Innis--these and many others are challenging the negative stereotypes of the late-twentieth-century African-American as nothing more than a welfare sponge populating the inner city with illegitimate kids who'll wind up in gangs, jail, or, if they're lucky, on a basketball court with a budding career as a rapper on the side.

But so far the only black conservative to go so far as to seek the U.S. presidency--as a Republican, naturally--is Alan Keyes, the subject of this interview and the author of Masters of the Dream: The Strength and Betrayal of Black America (Morrow). In it, he dispenses such bon mots as "[Because] the secularism encouraged by the welfare-state mentality lured the black poor away from their practical dependence upon churches and the network of internal institutions they represent ... [b]lack churches, as well as other organizing and moralizing institutions within the community, were relegated to the role of theaters of emotional catharsis--much the same role the enslavers wanted them to play during slavery."

Dr. Keyes, a lifelong Catholic, has earned degrees from Harvard and served as a university president and a U.S. ambassador to the U.N. He has appeared on all the political TV opinion forums that matter and some that don’t. He also hosts a daily, three-hour talk show on the Baltimore-D.C.-area AM station, WCBM. The only thing he hasn't done is win election to high office, although he's run twice for one of Maryland's U.S. Senate seats.

When he met with the Door's Arsenio Orteza at the BWI airport for lunch last January, he had yet to declare for the presidency. Since then, however, he's caught the attention of many who think the time for an outspoken, Christian advocate of limited government with a sensitivity to the needs of minorities has definitely come.

DOOR: Throughout Masters of the Dream, you place Christianity at the heart of every significant advance made by blacks since their arrival here as slaves.
KEYES: What I argue in my book is that, from the point of view of black Americans, Christianity was the most important resource for maintaining a sense of dignity
and worth against the degradation of the slave system and of subsequent discrimination. That, of course, is an argument that explicitly contradicts the view that has long been popular among black intellectuals.

DOOR: What view is that?
KEYES: That Christianity was this pie-in-the-sky, do-what-your-master-tells-you religion that was exploited by the enslaving class to make slaves more docile.

DOOR: Christianity wasn't used that way at all?
KEYES: The attempt was made, but it didn't succeed. In fact, what sprang up in the black community was clearly a kind of Christianity that sustained a sense of dignity rather than abetting a surrender to injustice.

DOOR: Did Christianity ultimately expedite or retard the eradication of slavery?
KEYES: From Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, who risked themselves to free slaves, to Frederick Douglas and other great spokesmen who became the focal point in the black community for the fight to abolish slavery, the people who fought that fight most strenuously were Christian people, people who today would be characterized as far-right-wing, fanatical, crazy, evangelical Christians.

DOOR: Why?
KEYES: Because they spoke to God every day, God told them what to do, and they did it. Nothing, for instance, that Sojourner Truth did was done without a sense of acting on God's orders.

DOOR: What was it about Christianity that would engender such heroism?
KEYES: Christianity is a revolutionary concept of one's relationship with the world.

DOOR: Revolutionary in what sense?
KEYES: In the sense that it's based on the notion that one's salvation--one's relationship with God--is the result of individual self-determination. That's true even in the Catholic Church, which is identified with hierarchy and so forth, but which, when you get inside it, is still based on the doctrine that your salvation depends on your relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You have to decide whether to accept the grace or not.

DOOR: But how did a predominantly illiterate slave population make sense of all that?
KEYES: Well, from the point of view of the enslaved, the system said, "You worth is determined entirely by external measures: how much money you fetch, what your master says about you, what work you do." But Christianity turns that on its head.

DOOR: How?
KEYES: By establishing a basis for moral autonomy. Your relationship with God doesn't depend on external circumstances, not on how rich or educated you are, not on how much power you have in the world. None of that stuff can affect what's most important--your ultimate salvation. Or, to put it another way, while dealing with a world that says, "Your worth what you fetch in the marketplace," you have an internal sense that says, "Excuse me, but my worth was determined by God before you got here and revalidated by Jesus Christ on the cross. So forget you."

DOOR: Amen!
KEYES: -----

DOOR: Uh, where were we? Oh yeah--so how does this "moral autonomy" translate from resistance into action?
KEYES: It becomes a source of liberating courage. You can stand up for what is right in the conviction that, through faith in Jesus Christ, you are working for God's purposes. You can brave death and everything else because it doesn't mean anything to you. This came through in the Civil Rights movement. I think that heritage was what gave real power and appeal to the message of Martin Luther King, Jr.

DOOR: Nowadays, people tend to conceive of that movement as "left wing" and of Christianity as "right wing."
KEYES: Well, we shouldn't impose those categories on history. The important thing about the Civil Rights movement, in terms of the black community, was that it was entirely formed by, and articulated in the context of, Christian concepts. That and the fact that it appealed to the Christianized conscience of America are what made it successful.

DOOR: Doesn't talk of our country's "Christianized conscience" threaten the separation of church and state?
KEYES: What the founders did, essentially, was to take Christian principles and state them in a secular form that became the foundation for our idea of justice. Martin Luther King imbued that language with a Christian fervor, and by using Christian concepts of love and justice, he was able to motivate the black community.

DOOR: For a conservative Republican, you sure have a lot of admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr.
KEYES: Everything that he articulated--non-violence, the whole business--was so perfect and necessary for the time. He saved America from a lot of bloodshed. In that sense, I think he deserves the reputation he has. But if you look at some of his writings, you find that he was no more immune to socialist temptations than his colleagues, and it's not entirely clear to me that he would've resisted. There were signs that maybe he wouldn't have.

DOOR: Such as?
KEYES: In his works, he tends to adopt the same negative view of black history as others in the black elite.

DOOR: What view is that?
KEYES: That black history is just a series of negative experiences--victimization, depression, oppression. I can hardly think of anything that takes a different look at that history and tries to understand the strength and character that came out of that history. That's why I wrote my book, because I wasn't finding it anywhere. And it's not in King either.

DOOR: For someone who admires Martin Luther King, you sure don't think very highly of him.
KEYES: I don't want to give the wrong impression. He knew the moral strength of the black community. He appealed to it, and his leadership was only possible because of it. But, at a conscious level, he didn't see it when he looked at black history, at least not in those terms. So I think it's quite possible that he would've marched along with his colleagues right off the cliff of liberal socialism.

DOOR: Why have his colleagues, along with close to one hundred percent of the black vote in this country, marched in that direction?
KEYES: During the '60s, the Civil Rights movement got yanked off its real basis. The so-called "black leadership" in this country, including a lot of people who call themselves ministers and reverends, signed on to an entirely materialistic political agenda.

DOOR: Doesn't true spirituality involve the meeting of material needs?
KEYES: Traditionally, black Americans have resisted the acceptance of a material basis for judging their worth. You were not worth what you had but what you were worth in a moral sense. So they resisted anything that sought to measure their worth in economic terms.

DOOR: What changed that?
KEYES: Tragically and ironically, the Civil Rights movement ended up signing on to a political approach that represented the acceptance of this materialistic way of looking at the world. They harped on how much black people did not have in material terms--money, jobs--

DOOR: But black people didn't have money or jobs, did they?
KEYES: But the solutions they found said, "O.K. we need access to jobs, so let's have a government program. Let's spend money." So the whole thing was moved into an economic realm. They accepted ideologies that were essentially materialistic and political, and that was an abandonment of the black American tradition.

DOOR: One tendency among Afro-centrist ideologues is to cite slavery as the basis for demanding even "more essentially materialistic and political" assistance.
KEYES: Part of me believes that this nation has not only paid for a lot of its injustices but actually paid for them several times over. And I don't mean this on some economic level. We'll get to that in a minute. I mean in terms of sacrifice, of real repentance on the part of many people.

DOOR: What are you referring to?
KEYES: I don't think the Civil War, for instance, could've been successfully prosecuted if there hadn't been a real sense of moral turnaround in America among the people at large. These pseudo-sophisticated analyses that say it was all about economics--that's garbage. Lincoln understood this. That's why in his second inaugural address he gave a sermon in which he essentially said, "Slavery's evil. We're fighting against it. If we have to fight against it until every part of this country is destroyed, that's God's judgment, and we'll just have to see it through to the end because this is a moral cause."

DOOR: You mentioned economic recompense.
KEYES: You know what the government should've done, what they could still do today, to revolutionize the situation of black Americans?

KEYES: The ancient Athenians and Romans used to do this occasionally to reward a city or those who had been faithful. They simply said, "You've been great to us, so we're going to remit your taxes for the next umpteen years."

DOOR: So you're saying the U.S. government should--
KEYES: They should look at black folks and say, "O.K., a hundred years of discrimination? We'll remit taxation on all black Americans for the next one hundred years." Do you realize what that would've done overnight?

DOOR: Uh, made all blacks Republicans?
KEYES: Not only that, but all of a sudden black folks would've become very attractive parts of the labor force because you could've actually gotten away with paying black people less, yet they would still have been at the same take-home-pay level as people who would've been paid more but getting taxed on it. Black businesses would've opened up, and they would've been able to have greater profit because they wouldn't have been taxed. It would've revolutionized the prospects of black people at a stroke.

DOOR: But a hundred years?
KEYES: If they'd done it for twenty-five years, it would've had the same effect.

DOOR: Do you think it's too late for that kind of solution?
KEYES: I don't know. I don't see any resolution at this stage. Right or wrong, this country has spent a lot of money in the last thirty years on what was sold to the public as efforts to address the legacies of slavery and discrimination. I think most of that turned out to be a lot of ill-constructed, misguided garbage, but we still paid for it, didn't we? Everybody did. The best way to handle the problems we face now might be to move in the opposite direction and establish a colorblind system, one in which you help people not on the basis of skin color but on the basis of actual need. Obviously, that would still reach a lot of the black Americans who are still in situations of need and disadvantage, and it would also put everybody in society on a level playing field.

DOOR: Your book is subtitled The Strength and Betrayal of Black America. What was its
KEYES: It was the betrayal by the black leadership, starting in the '60s, of that moral identity that had allowed blacks to resist the notion that if you didn't have material stuff you weren't worth anything. It was an abandonment of of the moral perspective that had allowed black Americans to sustain their basic, moral infrastructure--the family--in spite of material disadvantage.

DOOR: From what we hear, the black family isn't doing too well these days.
KEYES: A lot of people like to ascribe the family's falling apart to poverty and joblessness, but that's all a lie. Through the entire post-Civil War period, black folks were poor, had no access to jobs, and endured a rigid system of discrimination that limited their opportunities. Yet, during this same period, black folks put families back together and sustained them at high rates.

DOOR: Afro-centrists would say that Christianity may have been useful, but since it was imposed by whites, it served to erase the pre-slavery African identity. Are there, in fact, defining characteristics of pre-Christian black spirituality?
KEYES: I wouldn't say "defining characteristics."

DOOR: What would you say?
KEYES: I think it's pretty clear that there were residual African influences. Particularly in the early years of slavery, there was a kind of--how can I put it?--intermingling that affected the ways in which black Americans accepted and then expressed Christianity. Everyone knows there's a distinctive difference that you can feel the minute you walk into a black worship service, no matter what the denomination--the importance of music, for instance. Christianity is a very individualistic religion, yet black folks take a very communalistic approach to it. That, I think, reflects a heritage that comes from African roots, keeping in mind, of course, that those African roots are very complex, because there is no such thing as "Africa."

DOOR: No such thing as Africa?
KEYES: Not in a cultural sense. The religions, tribes, groups, and kingdoms in Africa were comprised of people from different parts of Africa. Some had common cultural roots, and a lot of the slaves came from West Africa. But there were also southern Africans. In any case, my point, which I think the so-called Afro-centrists miss, is that black Americans are not Africans. Not only are we not Africans in any purely cultural sense, we're not even Africans in any racial sense anymore.

DOOR: What are you?
KEYES: If you scratch my surface, you'll find French, Cherokee Indian, and African. All three are hidden beneath this surface. That's true of many Americans. Of course, when I go to West Africa, people look at me and think I come from there. My outward characteristics wouldn't tell you there'd been much of a change.

DOOR: What does this have to do with Afro-centrism?
KEYES: There is a unique black-American experience, and while it has elements that reflect the pathology of slavery--and while the way in which black Americans accept, embrace, and express their Christian faith is going to be an integral expression of all that--I think it's absolutely absurd to look at a people who have now developed their own unique character and identity and say that's somehow not an authentic expression of who they are. It's just nonsense! What does that mean?

DOOR: What does that mean?
KEYES: If this is what you've developed in order to sustain your moral self over several hundred years, then it's ignorant and stupid to suggest there's something inauthentic or imposed about that. Whatever the intention of others was, black people made it into something that served the purposes of their survival. And that's where a lot of these Afro-centrists, who pretend to be so concerned with expressing and sustaining a black identity, betray that identity. This phony notion that slavery or anything else had the ability to dehumanize and destroy black America--

DOOR: But didn't slavery dehumanize and, to a large extent anyway, destroy black America?
KEYES: That's precisely what did not happen. Black Americans developed a unique, distinctive character in the course of their successful effort to resist dehumanization, destruction, and even repression. That's why the Civil Rights movement, in its early form, was so successful.

DOOR: You mentioned the difference between black Christian worship and white Christian worship. Isn't the almost complete non-existence of integrated congregations a sign of a lingering problem?
KEYES: Not in and of itself?

DOOR: Is it something we should seek to overcome?
KEYES: Not necessarily, no.

DOOR: Is it a sign of Christianity's inability to bridge race-based rifts?
KEYES: Not necessarily.

DOOR: So you see nothing inherently wrong with the racial line that's drawn down the middle of public Christian worship?
KEYES: I don't think it is drawn. That suggests that it's being externally imposed. If it were being externally imposed, there would be something wrong with it.

DOOR: Why do you think we have congregations that are, for the most part, racially segregated?
KEYES: One of the reasons is that in America there was discrimination against black folks who belonged to predominantly white churches. The A.M.E. [African Methodist Episcopal] Church was founded by Richard Allen because he and a bunch of black folks got fed up with being told to sit in the back of the church and do other stuff that was discriminatory. So they went off and started their own church.

DOOR: That's what we mean. Isn't that a sign of unresolved corporate sin?
KEYES: If it's imposed that way, by prejudice and racism, then it's a bad thing because prejudice and racism are bad, un-Christian things. On the other hand, if it comes about as a natural expression of one's cultural background and heritage, that's not a bad thing any more than it's a bad thing for there to be Italian-type churches in Italy. Human beings come in different varieties, and I don't think Christianity implies that all those varieties disappear.

DOOR: What does Christianity imply along these lines?
KEYES: It simply implies that in the context of that diversity one comes to the consciousness of the unifying potential that exists because of your relationship to God through Jesus Christ, which then forms a community out of mankind, always keeping in mind that it is not a community in the way of the flesh but in the way of the spirit.

DOOR: In practical terms, what does that mean?
KEYES: That you don't have to wipe out fleshly differences, but through those fleshly differences you do have to express your common allegiance to God and to Jesus Christ. So, in a way, we're different but all the same. I think that cultural expressions can be quite healthy.

DOOR: Elsewhere in this issue, we interview David Duke. You recently gave a speech at the Louisiana State Republican Convention. Was he there?
KEYES: David Duke? Yeah.

DOOR: Some would consider your belonging to the same party as he does to be a PR problem for you.
KEYES: Well, afterward, I was talking to somebody, and at one point
I turned around and found myself confronted with Mr. Duke, who was passing by behind me.

DOOR: What happened?
KEYES: As I turned around, he stuck out his hand. It took a minute for this to compute. All in the space of a flash of a second, I debated with myself whether I would shake his hand.

DOOR: What made you hesitate?
KEYES: Because he's somebody whose background and views I thoroughly disagree with and disapprove of. But I decided in the end to shake his hand. Afterward, a lady who was there came up to me and said, "You know, that picture of the two of you shaking hands will do him a lot more harm with his constituency than it will with yours."

DOOR: Do you agree?
KEYES: Absolutely, because my constituency consists of a whole bunch of different kinds of people.

DOOR: Who are your constituents, in your opinion?
KEYES: Many of them are motivated Christians, and they know that, in the end, David Duke's fate is in the hands of God. They don't expect Alan Keyes to act like a beast just because other people do. As for his followers (laughs)--

DOOR: Yes?
KEYES: I wouldn't want to speak to the same sense of charity in them if they subscribe to his views on race. He does, of course, have followers who are taken in by his advocacy of conservative issues that have nothing to do with race. And part of the reason that folks like me have to be active and vocal in politics is so people who are motivated to support conservative causes for the right reasons will have champions and not have to follow people like David Duke, who will then make them part of movements that will be very harmful.

DOOR: We spoke earlier about Martin Luther King, Jr. What's your opinion of the man many consider to be his philosophical complement--Malcolm X?
KEYES: (Sighs)

DOOR: There's a great disparity, after all, between the legendary Malcolm X and the actual one, isn't there?
KEYES: I don't know. Malcolm X is one of those historical figures who loom much larger in the minds of people today than he ever did when he was alive.

DOOR: He didn't loom large in the '60s?
KEYES: Let us be frank: I think that at the time most people would've considered it incongruous to put Martin Luther King and Malcolm X on the same plane, especially in terms of their influence on the black community. Malcolm X was, all the way up to his death, a marginal figure in the life of black America.

DOOR: Because of his identification with Elijah Muhammad and Black Islam?
KEYES: I think so. They're a marginal movement. It's not a Christian movement. The center and heart of the black identity and the black experience is Christianity. People may not like to hear this, but it's true, and it's still true today. Martin Luther King stood squarely at the heart of that identity; Malcolm X was on a fringe somewhere. He's built up a lot today, but that doesn't mean he necessarily deserves to be, does it? Just because people today would like to make movies and pretend that their icon--I'm speaking especially of black intellectuals--somehow represented what was doesn't mean he did. He did not.

DOOR: How do you explain his popularity today?
KEYES: I think the admiration that some black-American intellectuals have developed for Malcolm X is one of the indications that they've strayed from, and have contempt for, the grass-roots reality of the black identity, which is not Malcolm X or Islam. It's Christianity, pure and simple. Nevertheless, there's been this tradition among black intellectuals of despising Christianity.

DOOR: Why do you think they despise it?
KEYES: Partly out of jealousy. The intellectuals think they should have the power the ministers have.

DOOR: And they don't?
KEYES: No, because the inward revolution that Christianity creates--especially in the context of slavery or any system that represses people on the basis of material forces--is unique. First, it helps you retain a sense of your own dignity and worth. But, second, it invalidates death.

DOOR: In what sense?
KEYES: In that the usual mechanism of controlling people by force is to manipulate their fear of death. Christianity frees you of this fear. It asks, "Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?" The significance usually ascribed to death is removed. And it then becomes, as I said, a source of liberating courage.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

D. Keith Mano (September/October 1994)

From 1991 to 2005, I had the pleasure of interviewing a fascinating array of writers, theologians, politicians, artists, and musicians for the Wittenburg Door, the original--only?--magazine of religious satire. From the preparation required to conduct them to the editing required to make them both clear and funny (the Door's two requirements, although not necessarily in that order), these interviews changed my life (mostly for the better). Although I conducted most of the interviews by phone, I was on several occasions able to hop a plane and question my subjects in person thanks to the generosity of Bob Darden and the late Mike Yaconelli, the editors who underwrote my adventures. It was a generosity made all the more special by the fact that the Door was usually deep in the red. For such acts of genuinely Christian charity (or fiscal insanity, I'm not sure which), I remain intensely grateful. Several of my interviews--R.C. Sproul, Chris Yambar--are still online in their entirety. What's posted below is one of the ones that's been MIA for awhile.

It's been a long time since we've interviewed a Russian Orthodox Christian. It's not that we have anything against them. It's just that they're so darned uncontroversial it's easy to forget they exist. It's also been awhile since we've interviewed a really serious novelist. We definitely have nothing against them. It's just hard to get them to return our e-mail. And we also haven't interviewed a contributing editor to Playboy since, well, ever. And though we might have something against them, it's nothing a complimentary subscription to their fine magazine and a free Playboy's Playmate Bloopers video wouldn't resolve.

Enter D. Keith Mano, the only man who's ever lived--or likely ever will live--who is all of the above. He's also a regular in William F. Buckley's National Review and, on a sad note, a recently diagnosed victim of Parkinson's Disease, the ravages of which he's just begun to experience.

As you might expect, the insights into Christianity of anyone this, uh, stimulated can't help proving interesting. Or, as Mano himself told the Door's Arsenio Orteza before the two met in Mano's Big Apple apartment: "I'm working on a serious think piece for Playboy on amateur pornography. I have fourteen cartons of it in my room with fourteen more on the way. So I should be in a good position to discuss our risen Lord."

We're a little rusty on our Russian Orthodoxy and amateur porn, but good novels we know, and Mano's Horn, The Death and Life of Harry Goth, War Is Heaven, The Bridge, and Take Five--each of which features a Christian, usually Episcopalian, trapped in bizarre circumstances--are as good as novels get. Take Five in particular, in which a brilliant and self-destructive independent filmmaker loses each of his five senses one at a time on his road to salvation, ranks as a truly heroic achievement. And his latest, Topless (Random House '91), about an Episcopal priest who runs a topless bar, is a definite page-turner. Or as Joe Bob Briggs might say, "One-hundred-and-seven breasts, three rotting corpses, one hook through the eye, and several dozen Kahluas with breast milk."

The Door says check it out

DOOR: Why are the main characters in all of your novels Christians?
MANO: I guess it's that I'm interested in men as heroes, physical and moral. And it just makes sense, if you're creating anything in the arts, to use the most extreme ingredients that you possibly can.

DOOR: An Episcopal priest in a topless bar is extreme all right.
MANO: The most intense way to deal with this moral heroism was to put serious Christians, whether they were priests or not, under tremendous moral pressure. It's most obvious in Topless, of course, because the lightning rods of the opposite poles are so close together. It is not a great literary triumph to come up with interesting metaphors when you have naked breasts and crosses so close together.

DOOR: Well, we were impressed.
MANO: The work is kind of done for you.

DOOR: All of your novels have wild settings.
MANO: Most art deals in extremes. And the great virtue of the Episcopal Church, which I was very much involved in, is that anything can happen in it. An Episcopal priest can do anything in your novel, and you're probably telling the truth because there's one out there somewhere really doing it. I don't doubt that there are priests running topless bars right now. And they're Episcopal.

DOOR: Were you a cradle Episcopalian?
MANO: No. Though I had been baptized as an Episcopalian as a mere velleity when I was a child, I really came to the faith through the most cynical possible motives. I went to Trinity School on scholarship, and the English prize was only given to confirmed Episcopalians. So my mother said, "You're about to become a confirmed Episcopalian." So I became a confirmed Episcopalian and won the English prize.

DOOR: Something tells us Billy Graham isn't begging you to give that testimony as a stadium-warmer-upper.
MANO: Still, the egg was laid in the larva that I am, and by the time I reached Columbia University, I had something of a revelation, namely a class called Contemporary Civilization II, which covered literature and thought from the end of the nineteenth century through the present. The instructor told us that if we believed in anything before taking this course, we would believe in nothing after we had taken this course.

DOOR: How encouraging.
MANO: It was a lot of Nietzsche, etc. And I saw after two weeks that he was right. So one day I left class and walked over to St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia, an Episcopal chapel, and became a worshiping Christian just to save myself from the bleakness of the prospect that was presented to me by Columbia's liberal-arts education.

DOOR: So that's why half your novels concern Episcopal priests. As for all the sex --
MANO: The Episcopal Church is a wonderfully rich source for a novelist. It's about as useful a milieu to write about as you could conceive of. My own particular take on it, forcing powerful material and sensual imagery up against powerful sacramental and spiritual imagery, is what I have been given by the Lord--I hope--as my particular equipment to create.

DOOR: We wish he'd given us that particular equipment!
MANO: This is what interests me. This is what I know. I know a lot about the spirit and the way it functions and the way grace functions. I know a great deal about the way the human body functions, sexually and in relationships. I have the honor of being the one person that Ruth Westheimer says is too dirty for her to talk to.

DOOR: What made her say that?

MANO: My take on human sexuality is so intense that, although she kids about it, she's scared of it. If you were to ask me whom I feel a particular affinity to as a writer--

DOOR: Whom do you feel a particular affinity to as a writer?
MANO: --it would be John Donne. I think he understood that we're given very little equipment to understand what the meaning of Jesus's sacrifice on the cross is. We're surrounded by physical and sensual things that distract us. So we have to deal with what we have--carefully--and always aware of the risks involved. And the one place where the human being can imagine, in some vague form, what grace is like and what a true vision of God is like is during orgasm.

DOOR: Excuse us. For a minute we thought you said "orgasm."
MANO: It's the one moment in which the human mind is freed from anything but an absolute concentration on a single thing, which you presume the desert fathers achieved when they were meditating on Christ's sacrifice.

DOOR: Uh, we think we know why Dr. Ruth won't talk to you.
MANO: I have covered every form of human sexuality in depth, at times participating, during thirty years of writing. I have been a contributing editor to Playboy for twenty years. I've lived as a transvestite--

DOOR: Excuse us again. We thought you said you'd lived as a transvestite.
MANO: It was a very painful experience for me. I had to shave all the hair off my body, and I didn't achieve enlightenment through it. But it was very interesting, and I'm quite aware of the feminine aspects in me and the masculine aspects in women. They're there. There's no avoiding them.

DOOR: -----
MANO: Transvestism is a complex act, and how you carry it off it depends very much on where you are with your sexuality. Ultimately it made me very angry, but it was very interesting. I can give you the article.

DOOR: Oh, you did it for an article!
MANO: Oh yeah. For Playboy.

DOOR: Well, that explains it, uh, sort of--
MANO: I've studied incest and dealt with people who were into incest. I've done deep and complex research on S&M. Yet it's only recently that I have come to terms, in some small way, with the question of why I am so obsessed with the battle between the body and the spirit, and why I'm writing constant oxymorons, so to speak, which do not help my book sales at all.

DOOR: Books about horny priests would seem to have a built-in audience.
MANO: Yeah, but sexier books are written than mine, and if people read religious books, they read the kind of thing that Fleming Revell or Word Books publishes. They wouldn't touch anything that had as raunchy premises as my books do. Yet up until recently it has perplexed me why I have been fascinated by this subject matter.

DOOR: We're almost afraid to ask, but what happened recently to explain your fascination?

MANO: About two months ago, I came across the passage in Corinthians where St. Paul said that it is a shame for a man to wear his hair long. And I wondered, "If St. Paul says it's a shame for a man to have long hair, why have we always depicted Jesus as having just about as long hair as you possibly could for a man?" There's a character in Topless who admits after a session in a topless bar that when he goes to church, there is no way to avoid the fact that this is a highly sensual image: an almost naked man on a cross in a situation of sacrifice, which is painful, vulnerable, submissive--all the terms that might easily be termed sexual. His head is usually bowed. And the hair, which the ancient Hebrews considered to be one of the most sensual parts of a woman--

DOOR: Um, what exactly are you getting at?
MANO: Here we have Jesus with the outer affects of a female, dying on the cross. So I said to myself, "Well, Jesus was incarnated and took on our humanity." Is that not correct? Correct me if I'm wrong.

DOOR: Sorry. We were just calculating how many subscriptions you might cost us. But, yes, Jesus
took on our humanity.
MANO: That's one of those basics of theology. We must assume that he took on our whole humanity. Otherwise he could not have experienced our suffering, our pain, our temptation, our lowliness, our sordidness, and all the other things that go along with being human. "The Word was made flesh," but it doesn't say the Word was made man. The Word was made flesh. Well, in that case, we would have to assume, since God is omniscient, that in his incarnation he was assuming all humanness, which included the female.

DOOR: Oh boy--er, girl, er--
MANO: This is a controversial thing to think, and you're dealing here with a very conservative Christian, one who left the Episcopal Church in part because he could not take communion from a female. So you're not dealing with a politically correct, radic-lib, feminist fellow traveler here.

DOOR: Whew! For a minute there you had us going.
MANO: But I said, "If Jesus knows what it is to be female, what does he know at the moment of his death on the cross? Well, he hasn't had a child, but then every female doesn't have a child, and that does not deny her femaleness. Jesus has not had intercourse as a female might, but that's not essential either. There are women who still must be considered women even though they are virgins through life. So what was necessary for Jesus to know the female, having known the male?

DOOR: Something tells us you have an answer.
MANO: I supposed that it had to be something along the lines of menstrual blood or pain, whatever it is that women--not men, thank God--go through on a monthly basis. How and when did Jesus experience this? How was he equipped to experience it if he did? And then the image struck me of the last moments on the cross, when a very well-intentioned, good-natured, sympathetic soul--very masculine--namely the centurion, pierces Jesus's side with his spear to carry out, in part, the Old Testament prophecy that his legs should not be broken, etc., but also out of concern for the relatives and out of concern, I think, to spare Jesus any further suffering. So although it was an act of invasion, it was done out of love. But what happens in that act of invasion? We read that Jesus was pierced in the side. That's a vague term.

DOOR: How so?
MANO: It could be any part of the lower body--the abdomen, possibly even the groin. And what happens when Jesus is pierced?

DOOR: Blood and water--
MANO: Yes, blood and water. I feel very strongly that there is a moment here in the passion that has been overlooked. Jesus's side is pierced by a male figure. And very often in Medieval paintings, when Jesus returns and Thomas is feeling his wounds, that wound is very clearly shaped in the form of the female privates. Well, we were talking about where the menstrual blood would come from. It is as if, to my mind, Jesus is recapitulating, in that moment, the entire life of a female.

DOOR: Let's see if we've got this straight--
MANO: Blood of menstruation--that might even be the blood of his hands and feet--blood of the piercing, which is the piercing of the hymen, so that it flows out of the "side," and water, which, if I remember correctly from my two children's births, pours liberally out of a woman in announcing what is to come. And what is to come, of course, is the birth in three days of a new dispensation, a new church, a new relationship between God and man. And it is the moment of death for Jesus at the same time.

DOOR: So what you're saying is--
MANO: In the moment of death, he becomes a viable female, is penetrated as a viable female, gives birth, and dies. And in those days, even up 'til recently, many women died in childbirth.

DOOR: You seem to have it all worked out.
MANO: It has a nice shape to it.

DOOR: Of course, you know what happened to Martin Scorsese for filming The Last Temptation of Christ.
MANO: The question of whether Jesus knew what orgasm was and whether he was fully male has always been a very touchy one in theology. The logic is there that if he's a true man, he must know lust. But then he's perfect, so he can't. He has so trained his mind, through goodness and grace, that he overcomes the temptation and never allows himself to experience lust, which distances him somewhat from being fully male.

DOOR: Isn't that distance inevitable in a perfect being?
MANO: It is, as I say, a touchy question. You could not conceive of Jesus Christ having intercourse with a woman. All that is implied in that is an act of aggression, even in the most loving circumstances, if penetration takes place. It is often painful for a woman even if her instincts are full of love. So obviously Jesus could not have ever had intercourse as a man.

DOOR: Obviously.
MANO: But as a woman? Yes. He could have.

DOOR: Um, we kind of wish you'd quit bringing that up.
MANO: Not orgasm. But he could experience the pain a female feels, what it means to be invaded. He could be entirely passive and be subjected to that, I think, when the spear enters his side, even though, as I say, the centurion is a loving figure. God could not otherwise have given Jesus the experience of sexual intercourse but as a female.

DOOR: Most people probably wonder why God would've had to give him that experience at all.
MANO: Remember when Jesus said, "If you even lust after a woman in your mind, you have done the same as if you had intercourse with her"?

DOOR: Sure, that's--
MANO: A character in one of my screenplays says, "Yeah, don't you wish." But I've always thought that what Jesus was saying there has been misinterpreted over and over by every church and non-church and by atheists as well. What Jesus is saying is not "Don't think about women sexually." What he's saying is "You will inevitably think about women sexually. Don't imagine that if you don't engage in the act you're any better off than someone who does. Don't be a Pharisee about it. You are a man. You will lust. You need absolution, something to propitiate God and to overcome the sinfulness that you feel." Now men particularly are driven by their sexual needs. I don't have to tell you that.

DOOR: Not us, no sir.
MANO: Men rape women; women seldom rape men. And I think, putting it charitably and drawing on my long experience in the study of people who are sexually healthy and those who are not, that the drive a man has to dominate a woman is instinctive, endless, and overpowering.

DOOR: How does your understanding of Christ's transformation into a female at the moment of his death help make sense of this dilemma?
MANO: It's my assumption that Jesus was born, lived, died, and was resurrected in both genders at the same time. If we assume that, then in part, I think, the male in us is looking to attain Jesus's state of grace, which was to harbor both genders safely within himself in a state of harmony. When I pass a beautiful woman--any woman--on the street, I want her. I don't want her because I know her or like her. I just want her. The wanting is a given of the male situation, and it has to be overcome because society would crack if it weren't.

DOOR: You're beginning to sound like a politically correct, radic-lib, feminist fellow traveler.
MANO: There's no question in my mind that we've always felt, in the heart of our Western, Christian culture, that Jesus was very much female. That is why the representations of Jesus with long hair have always been predominant in art. The Virgin Mary was later presented as a harmless sort of woman to whom we can address our need for a maternal outlet in prayer, as a safer way of dealing with the fact that Jesus was as much a woman as a man, particularly when he died.

DOOR: You said that if men don't overcome their wanting of women, society will crack.
MANO: We are coming to a point where the genders are clumsily engaging in civil war with each other. There's a lot of unpleasantness in the land. Men feel terribly threatened. Women have been crucified for many years, so they understand it and have their axes to grind as well. The truth of the matter is, Jesus on the cross is the female being exploited in every which way. I mentioned intercourse being, at its best, an act of penetration, but there are many other ways in which women have been sacrificed, whether from childbirth or being sold as wives or whatever, through history. So when the male S&M devotee binds a woman to a cross, he has to realize, if he's a Christian--

DOOR: Uh, just how many Christian S&M devotees are there?
MANO: Even if he's not a Christian, he ought to realize that he is essentially binding Jesus again, because Jesus contains in him the female--very, very strongly--but almost mystically hidden, I think, because the truth is too painful to deal with. I don't know. I've never heard anyone else say what I'm saying now.

DOOR: Believe us, we haven't either.
MANO: But I can't believe it hasn't been said. I can't believe that someone else has not seen the analogy between the centurion's spear and the male organ before. It can't be original with me after two-thousand years. I think it has been suppressed because it's a very dangerous area. Cultures survive because of differentiation of labor, and making Jesus into an equal man and equal woman is, A, a very perplexing proposition and, B, a socially disruptive one certainly.

DOOR: How does this proposition shed light on the problem of lust?
MANO: It is as if we were constantly acting out those drives that Aristophanes mentions in The Symposium when he speaks of our original state, which was an animal that contained both sexes in it at the same time, and that we were seeking to hammer ourselves back together again and let lust stop. We are trying to achieve Jesus's perfection, which was a mingling, in love, of the two genders that are necessary to procreate.

DOOR: That's consistent with calling Christ "the new Adam" in that the first Adam apparently harbored both genders before Eve was fashioned from his removed rib.
MANO: You're quite right. That is an image for what we understand vaguely about what is in us. One of the problems that our churches have--and I can understand it, and I have to excuse it, but I feel sorry about it--is that they try to achieve salvation by going around the body instead of going through the body, where true illumination lies. You can be saved by believing in Jesus and living a life of absolute abstention from sexuality, but to achieve a true understanding and illumination about what God's gift to us is, you must encounter the body, which is part of the equipment we have here and part of the covenant that Jesus made when he was incarnated. The body must be encountered and understood and accepted for what it is, and, as John Donne would have it, let us then be raped by God and achieve salvation with understanding as well. This is not to say that finding illumination through the body is without its risks. I never underestimate the body and have come close, because of my preoccupations, with those risks.

DOOR: What are you risking?
MANO: My soul. Look, the body is seductive and all-consuming. Give it a chance, it'll take you over. But then again that's what I'm writing about in my books. In a sense my novel Take Five is written as a plea to God to let me escape and let me also make the effort that I've gone through and the risks I've taken worthwhile by somehow transmitting the knowledge that I've gotten by being a very strange Christian, to make it useful and grace-filled to people who can understand what I'm saying.

DOOR: Most Christians probably don't think that the kinds of risks you're talking about are worth the trouble. They would assume that it's playing with fire.
MANO: It is.

So how have you avoided getting burned? Or have you?
MANO: The question is "Are you burned or are you refined?"

DOOR: Are you burned or are you refined?
MANO: What I have been saying about going through the body is essential to my thinking. I could not do it any other way because my body is an insistent animal. But at some point you have to let the body go. And it's not just a matter of giving up sensuality, it's a matter of giving up inspiration. When you don't want to write any more and you don't want to get laid any more, what are you? You have to deal essentially with a new kind of emptiness. The emptiness of the creative spirit as an artist has to be replaced with the creative spirit of the spirit. That's what's happening to Simon Lynxx in Take Five. Gradually his body is being taken away as I hope mine will be--and seems to be and as the Lord ironically seems to be leading me with Parkinson's.

DOOR: But have you been burned or refined by the risks you've taken?
MANO: Here's the best I can do: You take that risk, and the chance of achieving understanding of the Holy Spirit and the will of God is much closer than it would be for someone who's simply accepted Jesus's mediation and avoided dealing with body. When the devil died, you know, around the time of the Salem witch trials, God took a tremendous beating because he'd lost his main adversary. The devil is real, and you have to confront him in order to appreciate what salvation is.